Thursday, March 25, 2010

i've been in korea for two weeks and have learned that speed racer is a terrible movie...

I would just like to start this off by saying that Speed Racer is a terrible movie that gets played at least once every two days here… usually when there isn’t any other English programming on.

Things are okay here, I’m a bit homesick, I miss everyone a lot, and I just wish I had internet so that I could talk to you all. The last few days have been kind of hectic. Today we had to go to the immigration office to apply for my alien residence card, and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get it because of the stupid criminal record check. The lady told my co-teacher that if she doesn’t get it by the 12th, they won’t be able to issue my card, and then I’m screwed, so I have no idea what’s going to happen. And, to top it all off, the pictures that I sent with my original application were apparently not good enough, so we had to scramble to try and remedy that problem as well. They managed to find some picture paper at the school, and they had taken a picture of me a few days earlier, so they printed off ten copies onto a piece of picture paper. Hopefully the office will accept that. Really frustrating things keep happening, it’s really disheartening.

The kids here keep reminding me why I’m doing this, though. Korean kids are amazing. Like, really amazing. Wednesday night I was walking home from school, and as I was walking out of the school yard, a little boy ran up to me and yelled “Hello teacher! Nice to meet you! See you tomorrow!” and after I said hello back to him and told him that it was nice to meet him too, as we were walking away, he turned back around and yelled “Oh! Vancouver!!” it was adorable. The most common thing people talk to me about is Vancouver. Even if they don’t know how to speak English, they know how to say at least something about Vancouver.

The thing that made me really realize why I’m here happened after the problems at the immigration office today was, my co-teacher needed to go to a school out in the countryside because Yangji is renovating their English rooms, and the school that we went to had recently renovated their English room.  We were essentially poaching for ideas.. The room was amazing and so technologically advanced; it was so far removed from anything you would ever find in a Canadian classroom, it was beautiful really. The principal of the school spoke little English, but we chatted a little bit, and he told my co-teacher that he thought I was very polite and kind. He kept saying “Canada number one!” and giving me the thumbs up. The kids, though, the kids were amazing and made me so excited to start teaching next week. As soon as we walked into the classroom, the students took an immediate interest in me. They were kind of quiet at first and whispering amongst themselves, and then I heard one of the girls whisper “what is your name?” and then it just went from there. It was amazing, they were so excited and so sweet, they pulled out their textbooks so that they could ask me questions that they had learned and it really felt like we connected. They got me to draw on the board for them, and as soon as they saw my tattoos and my nose piercings they were amazed. All of them crowded around me, and my co-teacher practically had to pry me away from them. Even as I was walking down the hallway to leave the school they all crowded into the hallway and were yelling “Goodbye! Nice to meet you! Have a nice day!” it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I’m so excited to start teaching on Monday.

I’ll be teaching grades 4-6, from 9 to 12:30 each day, except Friday, when I only teach until 11:30, and, on Tuesdays and Thursdays I will be teaching an after school conversation class from 3:10-4 for some extra cash. I teach 6 sections of grade 5, 7 sections of grade 6, and 6 sections of grade 4, and each class has about 35 students in it, so I will be teaching around 650 students... which is pure insanity. I’m really hoping I misunderstood my co-teacher when she explained it all to me, and I'm not really teaching that many students.

I’m really looking forward to the conversation class because I get to set the curriculum and run it however I like and teach it by myself, which will be fantastic, especially since the curriculum for the actual classes seems almost set in stone.

Being a pedestrian here is terrifying. Drivers don’t even stop at red lights half the time. You really just have to run and pray, that’s about it. Oi. Not enjoyable.

It gets a little lonely here, all of the other foreign teachers have all met each other already through orientation, and they all have an idea of how Yeosu is laid out and where things are, but I feel totally lost. I really just don’t even know where I live. I know how to find my way home from school and from the market, and I kind of know my way around some of the area that I live in, but most of the stuff the other teachers do is at bar in Yeochon, and I don’t even know where that is. I just wish I had the internet and a cellphone so that I could actually get in contact with some of the other teachers and so that I could look up bus schedules and stuff. Until I get my alien residence card I can’t do anything, and it’s incredibly frustrating. I’m running out of money because the bank won’t let me set up an account until I have a residence card, and the school won’t give me the settlement allowance or reimburse me for any of the house stuff I bought until I have a bank account. And my co-teacher told me that she can’t get internet set up until I have a residence card. I just feel so frustrated and lost and alone sometimes.

I went wandering around Mipyeong-Dong today (Saturday), and it is really huge! I didn’t go down too many side streets because I forgot to get my co-teacher to write down my address in case I get lost, so I still don’t know where I live exactly. There was a little old lady trying to drag some cardboard into her yard, and I tried to help her… but I think the language barrier made her think I was trying to steal her cardboard and she started yelling at me. Maybe the elderly here are more “do it yourself” type of people as opposed to the elderly in Canada who welcome help? I have no idea. It’s been raining here a lot, I think I need to invest in an umbrella when I get paid… I shouldn’t complain though, it could be snowing. Also, I love instant coffee, just thought you would all like to know that. They have instant coffee packets here that have the milk and sugar in them already and you just add water, and they are DELICIOUS! Way better and cheaper than Tim Horton’s (yeah, you heard me, kippy, haha). The vice-principal of my school invited me to something tomorrow, and I’m not sure what. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow at 10:30 when she picks me up.

So, the big surprise today (Sunday) was church. Hahaha. It was a little awkward, I’m not gonna lie. It was held at the English Language Institute, a private academy that the vice principal's children go to after school. Almost all Korean children go to an after school English academy of some sort. The principal of the English academy was also the elder in charge of the church ceremony thingy… whatever it’s called. Anyways, it was all in English and rather short, and the elder got me to read some of the stuff out loud so that the people there could hear a native speaker’s pronunciation of the words. After the ceremony? Sermon? Session? I got to talk to him about the school and Korea and stuff like that, and he asked me if I had been keeping in contact with my mom and dad, and I told him that I had e-mailed them, but that it was hard to actually speak to them because it’s so expensive to call Canada, and I don’t have internet because I don’t have a residence card. So, he told me that he uses Skype to call people, and he asked me if I would like to make a quick call to them after lunch. I was incredibly grateful, and apparently it is quite inexpensive to make calls on Skype.  It was so nice to hear their voices. Being able to talk to them just lifted up my spirit and made me so happy, I was beginning to feel really homesick and kind of lost, and it was such a relief to get to talk to them. I feel a lot better now.

We had rice and a spicy chicken and potato stew for lunch, which was delicious. I’m so glad Korean food is so yummy! Last week we had duck for lunch on one of the days at school and it was so good, holy wow. We had it cooked in a spicy potato stew like I had with the chicken today, but it was sweet and delicious and just melted in your mouth. Anyways, after lunch, the elder let me call my parents on Skype, which was so nice of him, and then afterwards, he drives all of the church kids home, so he showed me around Yeosu for a couple of hours. We drove to the 2012 Expo grounds, and to a mountain overlooking the grounds, which we then walked up, and I was totally not prepared for it and almost died. But there was a beautiful park at the top, and you could see Dolsan bridge, and the new bridge they’re building and the Expo grounds that they’re developing. Then he took me to the coast to ocean park and I got to walk along the ocean, and see people fishing, and a kid catching starfish and crabs and putting them in a Mr. Noodles bowl, haha. It was amazing. Yeosu is way smaller than Edmonton but it feels so much bigger and like there’s so much more stuff, it’s weird. There was a guy fishing at Ocean Park that attracted quite a crowd. He was using like seven rods all by himself, it was insane. The only sad thing is, when they reel in starfish they don’t toss them back in the water, they just leave them on the walk to die. I tossed a few that I could reach back into the ocean, and I’m pretty sure people thought I was crazy.

Apparently there is another orientation in July, which I will be obligated to attend to make up for the orientation that I missed before I came here. Oh well, maybe I’ll learn some new things that I haven’t already learned by then? Who knows. I decided to man up and buy a bag of chips today. I took a picture of the bag because it’s kind of funny, it’s this guy wearing a muscle shirt and he has very stylized hair, and then the chips are called “Nacho: crazy for nacho,” and they look like they would be similar to corn chips. Well, when I opened them, they definitely were not nacho cheese flavour. They smelled really strongly of vinegar, but I can’t quite peg the flavour. The writing on the bag when I translate it and try and look it up in the dictionary doesn’t really give me more information either, so they’re mystery chips for now. Just like the pork peace of mind. 

Everyone here is still amazed at how well I can use chopsticks, one of the teachers at school that I hadn’t sat with before spent the whole lunch watching me eat (which, as we all know, makes me ridiculously uncomfortable), because she had never seen a foreigner use chopsticks so well. It helps that Korean chopsticks are metal and more oblong as opposed to round, so you can grip food a lot easier. It’s still kind of funny how amazed they are, though. If you guys get a chance to eat mandoo at any point in time, jump on it, it is so good and I could eat it all day long. They’re like little dumplings in a rice pasta and they can be served either in soup or alone, and they are the tastiest things in the whole entire world, they’re like little pieces of heaven in your mouth. Mandoo and duck day at school was a happy day.

I love Korean versions of American and Canadian brands. When I buy some Tide I’ll take a picture of the box. It looks exactly like Tide if you kind of unfocus your eyes. That’s how I know what I’m buying half the time, I don’t have to be able to read what it says to be able to know what it is, I just recognize the packaging. Though, my being able to read Hangul is coming along quite well, it’s just a matter of being able to know what the words mean afterwards.

Have a look at the information for the 2012 World Expo here, it sounds like it’s going to be amazing, and I totally want to come back for it. They’re redeveloping a whole section of the city for it, and it’s all about ocean sustainability and redevelopment and advancement, and the areas they’re developing for the Expo are absolutely incredible. The Expo information centre was insane… and the craziest part about it: the bathrooms! The bathrooms were amazing. I so wish I had my camera, haha… not that it wouldn’t be awkward taking pictures of a bathroom. The walls were beautiful tile murals, and the sinks… the sinks probably cost more than my university education. And the toilets were crazy! The seats were heated, and there were buttons for things that I had no idea what they did! I have never seen a bathroom like it in my life.

Tomorrow is my first day of teaching, I’m nervous, but I know that as soon as the first class is over, everything will go smoothly. I’m teaching the same lesson six times in the next day and a half… so it better go smoothly after the first class or two.

So, my first four classes today (Monday) were really good, the kids were attentive and excited and happy and had a lot of questions and were really into the lesson, and then, the fifth class... never have I seen things go downhill so fast in my entire life. A little boy in class kept flipping me off, and one of the little girls kept sleeping and my co-teacher went to talk to her, and she said she had a stomach ache... and then twenty minutes later she got up and puked all over the floor in front of the door. Hurray, ew. Either way, the kids, for the most part are adorable and great, one of the little girls already follows me around when she sees me.

Turns out that my conversation class is going to be starting tomorrow, not next week, and that at least 11 kids have signed up so far.  I’m totally not prepared though, so I’m a little worried. At least there aren’t any classes tomorrow because of a countrywide aptitude test, so I’ll have some prep time.

We went to the immigration office today, and the lady finally agreed to take the pictures we had printed off as a good enough picture for my alien registration card. I think they lost my passport, to be honest. She was supposed to attach the picture to my application, which has my passport, and she searched high and low and couldn’t find it... then told my co-teacher that she would do it later. Comforting.

Oh, if you want a really annoying experience, move into a place where the shower is run through the sink, and see how many times a week you forget to switch it back to tap from shower after you finish taking a shower. So far I have forgotten three times, and have soaked myself from head to toe after getting fully dressed for work when I go to wash my hands after eating breakfast. Lovely. Who doesn’t love getting ready for work twice each day?

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